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Friday, February 3, 2023

Hitwise: Search Popularity Static; Live.com Only Tiny Slice Of Microsoft's Share

The latest search popularity stats for March 2007 have come out from Hitwise. They show nothing different than last month. Google had a tiny 0.2 percent rise, while Yahoo dropped the same tiny amount. Live had a tiny 0.3 percent rise, though given Live’s already small amount of traffic, that’s more important to the service. A bigger issue, which I’ll get into more below, is how more people may finally be going to the Live.com site itself and searching rather than MSN.

Here are the latest numbers. They are different than the Hitwise press release, and I’ll explain why further below:

Search Engine

Feb. 2007

Mar. 2007

Change

Google

63.90%

64.13%

0.23%

Yahoo

21.47%

21.26%

-0.21%

MSN

8.81%

8.55%

-0.26%

Ask

3.52%

3.48%

-0.04%

AOL

0.49%

0.49%

0.00%

Live

0.34%

0.60%

0.26%

Lycos

n/a

0.44%

Dogpile

n/a

0.24%

AltaVista

n/a

0.19%

AllTheWeb

n/a

0.16%

The chart above shows the share each major search engine has of all searches
conducted in the United States for the 4 weeks period ending on March 31, 2007.
Specifically, it is for searches conducted on the following domains for each
search engine: www.google.com; search.yahoo.com; search.msn.com; www.ask.com;
www.live.com; www.aolsearch.com; search.lycos.com; www.dogpile.com;
www.altavista.com; www.alltheweb.com.

Now the release is pretty upbeat for Google:

“Google’s growth shows no signs of slowing” said Bill Tancer, general
manager of global research at Hitwise. “Despite capturing the majority of
searches in the U.S., and in light of competitor’s improvements, Google’s
market share of executed searches continues to grow, exceeding 10 percent
growth year-over-year.”

So why am I saying nothing has changed? Because the release is talking about
month-to-month changes (March 2006 versus March 2007), which prompt my regular
caveat about this:

Look for long-term trends. You want to view stats for several months
in a row, not two isolated months compared to each other. Stats can and will
plunge from one month to the next for all types of reasons, not the least due
to a ratings service itself having some counting glitch. Similarly, comparing
back from one month to the same time the previous year might not reflect
counting changes that may have happened or been refined over that time. I want
a trend line — and a long one.

So the 2006 to 2007 figures are dramatic — but that’s old news. We’ve seen
Google climb over the past year. But the direct month-to-month jump is hardly
noticeable. And more important, it doesn’t register on a long-term trend.

Now let’s talk about the MSN versus Live.com situation. When Hitwise released
the latest figures, I was confused as to why they didn’t match was issued
last month. Consider:

  • Feb. 2007 “Old” Figure: 8.81%
  • Feb. 2007 “New” Figure: 9.30%

So what happened to make the Feb. 2007 figures for Live.com rise? Well, they
are for both Live.com and MSN.com. In the past, when Hitwise was reporting “search.msn.com”
figures, I assumed this was traffic from both Live.com and MSN.com. Since
Live.com is technically the flagship Microsoft brand, I’ve referred to the share
as Live.com’s share.

It turns out that Hitwise has not combined the shares until this month, and
for this specific press release. And that leads to an additional twist — that
maybe people are starting to use Live.com more directly.

To understand more, you have to realized that until last September,
MSN.com was the flagship Microsoft search brand. People were pointed there and
to some degree the standalone search.msn.com site.

In September, Microsoft started redirecting people. Anyone trying to reach
search.msn.com

was sent
to live.com. That’s one good reason to also assume that any traffic
reports for search.msn.com really meant live.com.

As it turns out, it’s only the home page of search.msn.com that was
redirected. If you search via the MSN.com home
page, say for cars, you’ll see the URL looks like this:

http://search.msn.com/results.aspx?q=cars

See the bolded part? It says search.msn.com. No redirection
happens, if you search from the MSN.com home page. The search.msn.com domain
remains, despite the fact that the search page itself has Live.com’s branding.

FYI, if you search from Live.com itself, the URL looks like this:

http://search.live.com/results.aspx?q=car

Here you can see that the search.live.com domain is used.

Now back to that difference in figures. As you can see from the chart above,
practically no one, at least according to Hitwise, was going to Live.com
directly and searching in February compared to MSN. Moreover, it means
practically no one is searching at Live.com via the special search box within
Internet Explorer. That box taps into Live.com, not into MSN. If that box was
driving a lot of searches, you should see much more traffic.

The news is better for March, with the figure doubling — but MSN still
remains pulling by far the bulk of traffic.


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